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Religious Liberty in America: The Challenges and the Promise

  • America's Islamic Heritage Museum 2315 Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE Washington, DC 20020 (map)
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“Religious Liberty in America: The Challenges and the Promise” at America’s Islamic Heritage Museum examined the ways in which religious freedom has been imperfectly implemented in the past by examining the history of religious persecution of Muslims, Mormons, and Catholics. These examples serve as a reason to uphold and protect religious liberty now, as it remains the main recourse for people of all religions to avoid these historical tragedies.



Ismail Royer, Director of Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team, Religious Freedom Institute

Panel Discussion

Amir Muhammad, Director of America’s Islamic Heritage Museum

Dr. Katrina Sanders, University of Iowa

Dr. Kathleen Flake, University of Virginia

(Moderator) Ismail Royer


Dinner Remarks

Imam Talib Shareef, Masjid Muhammad

Closing Remarks

Ismail Royer


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Kathleen Flake's research in the area of American Religious History focuses on the adaptive strategies of 19th and 20th century American religious communities and the effect of pluralism on religious identity; she is also interested in the constructive function of text and ritual in maintaining and adapting the identity and gendered power structures of religious communities. In the area of American Legal History, she studies the influence of American law on American religion and the theological tensions inherent in the First Amendment religious clauses. Her current project is “Mormon Matriarchy, a Study of Gendered Power in Antebellum America.” Prior to her appointment at Virginia, she taught at Vanderbilt University in both the Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion. Before becoming an academic, she litigated cases on behalf of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Washington, D.C.

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Amir Muhammad is an accomplished and noted researcher, historian, author, and poet whose works have gained him international recognition. Mr. Muhammad is the president, co-founder and curator of America’s Islamic Heritage Museum a division of Collections & Stories of American Muslims, Inc. (Traveling Exhibit, Archives, & Museum), established in 1996. He is among the foremost historians and researchers of the Islamic experience in the United States as well as one of the leading activists in creating public awareness of America’s rich Islamic history. Amir Muhammad is an author of eight books, including: Muslims in America: Seven Centuries of History from (1312-2000) (2001) (sold over 40,000 copies); America’s Masajid & Islamic Centers: A Pictorial Account (2007); Muslim Veterans of American Wars (2007); and Unique Tombstones: Found Across the United States (2009). He has lectured and exhibited at Harvard University, Stanford University, Rutgers University, Howard University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Indiana Bloomington, University of Florida, the University of Illinois Chicago, and a host of other universities and schools across the country. He has also provided exhibits for the State Department, the Pentagon Iftar programs, a variety of government agencies, Masajid, Churches, and community groups across the US, Bermuda, St. Thomas, Qatar, and Nigeria.

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Ismail Royer is Director of the Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team at the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC. Since converting to Islam in 1992, he has studied religious sciences with traditional Islamic scholars, and spent over a decade working at non-profit Islamic organizations. In June 2003, Royer was indicted for assisting the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) and pleaded guilty to weapons charges related to the violation of United States neutrality laws. Since his release he has worked with nonprofits to promote peace between faiths and to undermine religious extremism. His writing has appeared in publications such as the Washington Post, Journal of Religion and Society, Public Discourse, Detroit Free Press, Al Jumuah, and Muslim Matters.

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Katrina M. Sanders is an associate professor at The University of Iowa in the department of Educational Policy and Leadership Studies. Her research interests are situated within African American education, Catholic education, and American race relations. She is the author of “Intelligent and Effective Direction”: The Fisk University Race Relations Institute, 1944-1969 and the Struggle for Civil Rights  (Peter Lang, 2004), and is currently working on her second book, The Rise and Fall of Black Catholic Education in a Changing South, 1866-1976, under contract with New York University Press. Sanders’ work on Black Catholic education and history have appeared in the edited works Uncommon Faithfulness: The Black Catholic Experience, (Copeland, 2009); Using Past as Prologue: Contemporary Perspectives on African American Educational History (Danns, Purdy, Span, 2015); The U.S. Catholic Historian (2015); The Journal of African American History (2016); and The Journal of The Black Catholic Theological Symposium (2018). She has also served as a consulting editor and author for The Adam Matthew Digitization Project: American Race Relations, Introduction to Race in America (2017), and is currently working on the Colored Conventions-Iowa Satellite Digital Humanities Project. Katrina is a Lily Endowment Inc. funded Louisville Institute Sabbatical Grant for Research Awardee for 2019, and has also just been elected as the Vice President of Division F: History and Historiography for the American Educational Research Association for a three-year term beginning May 1st 2020.

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Talib M. Shareef is President and Imam of the historic, Nation’s Mosque, Masjid Muhammad. Imam Shareef is a retired Chief Master Sergeant of the United States Air Force after 30 years and holds a Masters of Business Administration from American Intercontinental University, a Diploma from the Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University, and is a graduate of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Arabic and Middle East Studies. He is a student of the late Imam W.D. Muhammad, Muslim-American Spokesman for Humanity. Imam Shareef served as Imam in five U.S. cities and seven military locations around the world and as convener, Georgia State Association of Imams. He led a historic interfaith delegation to Italy and received for a meeting at the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. He was one of the signers in Nigeria to the Abuja Peace Declaration organized by the International Global Peace Foundation and the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution. He was the first Imam with military service to offer prayer at an opening session of the U.S. Congress. He was honored to sit with and be recognized for his service by President Barack Obama at the White House Iftar in 2011 and he served as keynote speaker for the Pentagon and Homeland Security Iftars, and for the first and subsequent Iftars hosted by an Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.


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America’s Islamic Heritage Museum is the principal project of Collections & Stories of American Muslims, Inc. - a Washington, DC Ward 8 based non-profit organization. CSAM was established in 1996 dedicated to preserving and fostering educational community engagement programs and opportunities that provide access to, and understanding of, the history of Muslim Americans. We have been in our current location since March 2011, and have served more than 52,500 visitors in the Museum.

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Islamic Relief USA provides relief and development in a dignified manner regardless of gender, race, or religion, and works to empower individuals in their communities and give them a voice in the world.

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The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) is a nonprofit organization committed to achieving broad acceptance of religious liberty as a fundamental human right, the cornerstone of a successful society, and a source of national and international security. RFI works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere.